Galloping Horse CEO's Death Linked to China Corruption Probe (Report)

Bo Xilai - H 2012
Getty Images

Bo Xilai - H 2012

Li Ming died in custody after being sedated as part of a Communist Party investigation into high-level corruption, according to latest reports.

The circumstances surrounding the sudden death of Li Ming, the 47-year-old CEO of Beijing-based film company Galloping Horse, continue to be the topic of much debate in China and beyond, with media reports linking his death to a high-profile Communist Party corruption probe.

Li reportedly died suddenly of a heart attack on Jan. 2, but more recent reports said that he died while he was in police custody under interrogation. Galloping Horse announced that Li's wife, Jin Yan, would take over as chairperson of the company.

Speculation has been fueled by instructions from the State Council Information Office, which is the information arm of China's cabinet, saying that "all web sites must immediately delete the Caixin article entitled "Beijing Galloping Horse executive Li Ming Suddenly Leaves This World."

PHOTOS: China Box Office: 10 Highest-Grossing Movies of All Time

French daily Le Monde carried a full-page investigation, and there is speculation among many in the industry about his death.

Rumors say that he was in investigative custody as part of a wider investigation into Li Dongsheng, a high-ranking police officer who is an ally of former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang.

Zhou is reportedly being investigated for corruption, as part of a broader power struggle at the top of the Communist Party. Zhou has been linked to purged senior Communist Party official Bo Xilai.

Industry sources say that Li Ming was given a sedative to calm him down after he became upset during an interrogation at the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and that he reacted badly, causing him to have a stroke.

There is also speculation about when Li died, with some saying he died some time before the official announcement.

Li Dongsheng was formerly a senior figure at state broadcaster CCTV. Galloping Horse made a number of programs for CCTV in the mid-1990s, and Li Dongsheng helped to promote Li Ming during that time.

Li Dongsheng was sacked as vice minister of public security on Dec. 25 and is currently under investigation for disciplinary violations. Suspicion about Li Dongsheng’s connection to Zhou Yongkang has led to key words related to them being blocked on China's Twitter-like service Weibo.

Born into a military family in 1966, Li graduated from Beijing Broadcasting Institute in 1989 and began his career as a commercials director before founding Beijing Galloping Horse Media in 1989.

His body was released to his family on the condition that no autopsy be carried out, Le Monde reported, and his funeral at Beijing's Babaoshan cemetery was held amid a big security presence.

Among those attending the funeral were directors Wang Xiaoshuai and John Woo, who is currently making The Crossing with funding from Galloping Horse. The movie is due out toward the end of 2014.

Galloping Horse has been involved in some high-profile projects in recent years, including The Karate Kid, starring Jackie Chan, and Ning Hao's box-office smash No Man's Land. It was also involved in the highly successful TV series Three Kingdoms.

The firm has been expanding its business into the exhibition sector, building theaters in second- and third-tier cities in China.

In 2012, the company bought a 70 percent stake in digital effects firm Digital Domain for $30.2 million with India’s Reliance MediaWorks after Digital Domain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The firm sold it weeks later to Hong Kong's Sun Innovation Holdings Ltd for $50.5 million.